"I hate writing. I love having written." Dorothy Parker
Were two more perfect sentences ever strung together? This quote captures how I often feel, particularly on days when I'm writing fiction. Creative writing has to be one of the most frustrating and tortuous processes. But when you've met your writing goal—whether it be 1,500 words, a chapter, a short story—and you find yourself actually pleased with what you've written, it's also one of the most satisfying. I suppose it's that which keeps me going when logic otherwise tells me to stop.
At this stage in my journalism career, I don't write on spec. For those not familiar with freelance journalism, typically it goes like this: you come up with an idea for an article, find an appropriate forum, and pitch the idea to a buyer, who is usually an editor. The editor then says yes, no, or maybe (with modifications or conditions). If the editor says no you might pitch the idea to another editor but not until you find a buyer do you begin, in earnest, the research, interviews and writing. Eventually, once you've established good relationship with editors by proving you can meet deadlines and tell a half-decent story, they will assign you articles without the need for you to pitch to them. Thankfully this is how I get most of my work these days and it's lovely because I don't have to face all the groveling and rejection that can accompany pitching.
Early on as a freelance journalist, when you're still keen and eager to build a portfolio of published work, you may write an article first, then seek a buyer. This is writing on spec and it's inherently risky as you can find yourself with a marvelous article you've spent countless hours writing with no market for it and therefore no compensation. You can't afford to do this often because while writing may satisfy the soul, it does not satisfy the hungry tummy or pay the bills.
Now segue to fiction. Unless you're already a best-selling author, you almost always have to write entire manuscripts on spec. It's not uncommon to work on a manuscript for a year or even longer knowing the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against your ever selling it. For every published manuscript there are 99 or more that did not sell—many of them excellent, well-crafted stories. It's so random and disheartening I think it's practically masochistic to even try to get published. Better to write for yourself, or your friends, or your blog followers (thank you thank you thank you) then to retain hopes of seeing your name on the spine of novel. And yet on I plod...in that hope.
As many professional nonfiction writers eventually do, I decided to spread my wings and see if I had any interest in, or talent for, creative writing. It would be a lark, I thought, to take a creative writing course and see where it led me. I signed up for a class in 2008 and only recently completed my first full-length manuscript. Some days the words poured out of me but most were blood-from-a-stone days. I completed the 65,000-word draft, circulated it to my writing group and select friends, rewrote it about 18 times, sought professional criticism, went to workshops, met and consulted with other writers, sent it to my nonfiction book publisher for advice, and entered it into the Atlantic Writing Competition.
It's been a lesson, if nothing else. I've had feedback that it's hilarious, fast-paced and captivating. I've also heard the dialogue isn't natural and the writing is pedantic. I was told by so many it needed a sex scene I reluctantly added one, then my next reviewer said the sex scene was "a little more than I wanted to know." There has been one constant, however, and that is that every reader has said they felt the story had potential and would be well received in particular genres.
Publishers, say the word and I'll send you my manuscript! But until I sign a multi-book deal, I'll need to stick with the freelance journalism and blogging.
And now, this blog post is finished and I'm aglow with the satisfaction of having completed it. I hate writing, I love having written.